UM knows it's unwise to look past 2-6 Duke

Terps would like a rout, but Devils have played Virginia, N.C. State tough

College Football

October 26, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - After surprisingly easy outings against West Virginia and Georgia Tech, Maryland wouldn't mind another walk-over victory today when it plays Duke in Durham, N.C.

The Terrapins (5-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) could roll through as they did last year in a 59-17 win, post their first shutout of the year, get some carries for newly cleared Bruce Perry and hop on the charter having possibly moved into third place in the league.

That mind-set must be shucked aside temporarily, however, since the Blue Devils (2-6, 0-4) have stopped providing holidays for some of their opponents this season and started giving them fits.

Duke, which came into the season with a 23-game losing streak and only one senior, opened eyes by fighting then-No. 13 North Carolina State before falling, 24-22, last Saturday. The Blue Devils had the ball at midfield in the final 20 seconds before desperation passes went incomplete.

Earlier, the team nearly derailed the six-game winning streak of current third-place holder Virginia. The Cavaliers needed a fourth-quarter rally to escape, 27-22.

While Duke will likely finish with its eighth straight losing season, there's an upbeat tenor that hasn't been apparent for much of the four-year tenure of head coach Carl Franks.

"They don't walk around feeling bad about themselves," said Franks, talking about his players. "We're not great, but we're pretty good. It doesn't show in the win-loss record how good I think we are, but I don't think that defines how good a football player you are, or what type of team you have."

On both sides of the football, Duke has a presence in terms of the running game. The Blue Devils rank in the middle of the ACC in rushing offense, their 167-yard average a shade behind Maryland's 172.4. They rank second in the league in rushing defense by allowing only 121.8 yards on the ground.

The Maryland defense - ranked 12th in scoring prevention - is facing what coach Ralph Friedgen called "the most sophisticated" attack the team will see this year, led by quarterback Adam Smith.

At 250 pounds, Alex Wade looks as if he'll become the fifth Duke back to surpass the 1,000-yard mark, averaging 7.2 yards per rush in a 165-yard effort against Wake Forest, the ACC's third-best run defense. Along with Wade's 712 yards, shiftier tailback Chris Douglass (402 yards) also gives the Blue Devils what Franks called "a changeup."

However, Duke's turnaround in stopping the run has been more impressive. Last year, the team allowed 245.6 yards per game on the ground. Enter Ted Roof, a former workmate of Friedgen at Georgia Tech who took his defensive coordinator title from Atlanta to Durham.

"They're physical and come right at you - it's going to be tough to get all the assignments in," senior offensive lineman Todd Wike said. "They move around a lot. They show you one defense, then move into another. They do a lot of slanting and angling, and they bring a lot of people on blitzes."

Amid all the slanting and angling, the Terps would like to continue the improvement on offense. At the bottom of the league's standings a month ago, they're still there. But the team did gain 432 yards last week, and now comes Perry, who suffered a groin injury that sidelined him for the first seven games.

Though Chris Downs is coming off a 212-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance, the introduction of Perry shouldn't hurt after he rushed for 1,242 yards last year while earning ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

By winning today and with a loss by Virginia at Georgia Tech, the Terps would be third in the ACC with a 2-1 league mark, with a struggling North Carolina to face next week. Florida State and N.C. State are tied for first at 4-0, and the Wolfpack comes to town Nov. 9.

"We're much better now than we were, and I would hope we would be seven games into the season," Friedgen said. "If we're going to continue to win, we're going to have to continue to improve. If we do that, we have a chance of having a good football season."

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